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Between Two Parents Video with Transcript

As a service to survivors and others involved in high-conflict custody cases, LACLJ presents the video BETWEEN TWO PARENTS, created by the Los Angeles Superior Court. BETWEEN TWO PARENTS offers many of the lessons provided by extended parenting education classes in an hour-long format.

Between Two Parents was created by the Los Angeles Superior Court Family Court Services Department, with funds provided by the Los Angeles Shriver Custody Project.

Audio Visual
[piano music in the background, boy speaking] Right here is the part where my dad and Shay-Shay live. Oh, yeah. And Barney. Okay, and over here is where my mom lives. Oh, wait. I’ve got to make it a little farther away. I want to make them be in the same castle, but they’re not together anymore. So I’m going to have to make one really, really big castle, so at nighttime I get go all the way over here to say goodnight to dad and then go all the way back over here to give my mom a hug. Oh, wait. Where can I put Nana and Poppy? And my play sister? Oh, yeah! I could put them over here. A boy is showing us a picture of a castle that he drew. The boy shows us another area of the castle. The boy draws a bridge on his castle.
In your child’s world, you and the other parent are the most important characters. How you play your world has a lasting effect on your child throughout life.  A woman standing in a waiting room area speaks to us directly.
Your child wants to grow up to be you someday. What will they learn from you? What will they remember about how you and their other parent treat one another? Are you teaching them how to share and to solve problems through give and take? Or are you teaching them by your example that life is a battleground? And that the only way to survive is to fight and win?

Different photos appear in succession: a mother and daughter shopping for children’s clothes; a father and son fishing at a lake; a father giving his son a piggyback ride; a father and mother with their daughter in graduation clothes; a father and mother with their son holding a soccer ball; a mother teacher her daughter how to read; a mother an daughter at the beach; a mother and son playing soccer together; a mother and daughter playing with Legos; a father showing a son how to how a baseball bat.

This is contrasted with a succession of photos showing parents fighting with each other.

While that might be important on the playing field. It does not make for happiness in family relationships, especially when that fighting is between parents. Photos of different sports teams appear. There is a photo of men running on a racetrack. There is then a succession of photos of unhappy families.
For every win, there is a loss, which only propels the loser to reinvest in the battle, hoping for a better outcome next time. A woman standing in a waiting room area speaks to us directly.
The hidden losers in families where parents are locked in this kind of conflict are the children. They can become depressed and hopeless as they see no way out of the perpetual chaos in their parents’ war zone. A war zone they cannot escape. Photos appear in succession: a sad girl’s face; a girl covering her years as her parents argue in the background; a frowning boy sitting in a chair;  a frowning girl sitting on the staircase; a frowning boy looking out of a window; an mother and father arguing with a girl sadly sitting at a table.
Parents, too, can feel helpless, as they see no way to stop the repeated conflict and tension they experience in the relationship. There is a photo of a son lying on his father’s lap.
My name is Ana and I’m a parent who felt stuck in this type of conflict. Fortunately for my son, I was referred to a parent education group, which really helped me see how I could make changes to improve my situation, even if my son’s other parent did not want to change.  The same woman as before, Ana, is speaking directly to us in a waiting room area.
I invite you to watch with me now as you see how two parents, Tamiko and Donovan, who are caught in this kind of struggle, learned some key tools, which helped them get beyond the animosity that had build a wall between them.

There is a split screen with an Asian woman, Tamiko, on the left side of the screen and a Black man, Donovan on the right side.

Ana speaks to us directly.

By participating in a group of other parents experiencing conflict in their relationships, Tamiko and Donovan learned how to put their child’s needs first and regain respect for one another. The outcome for Tamiko and Donovan is quite unique to their relationship, but I believe that you will find that change is possible, even if the other parent never changes. And the best news is that you child will learn by your example how to be a hero in solving problems and reducing conflict. Let’s begin by joining the parenting group in meeting Tamiko and Donovan and the other participants.

There is a group of people sitting on chair in group discussion. 

Ana speaks to us directly in the same waiting room area as before.

[Woman] I really don’t know why I even have to take this class. My ex is the one who’s kept the children away from me. He’s the one who should have to take the class.  Seven people sit at a rectangular table. A woman with blond hair speaks to the woman sitting next to her.
[Tamiko] I don’t understand why I’m here either. But the judge said we both have to come. The Asian woman, earlier introduced as Tamiko, responds to the woman with blond hair.

[John] Good afternoon. Welcome to “Between Two Parents.” You’re all here, because a family law judge had become concerned that you child may be affected by the ongoing conflict between you and your child’s other parent. You may be thinking as you hear these words, “But it’s not my fault. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the unreasonable way the other parent is and always was.” And if you feel this way, that you’re somehow the victim of someone else’s behavior, you’re certainly not alone. Many parents who wind up in court over child custody feel this way. You, like these other parents, may have given up hope that there is a solution. You may feel hopeless, discouraged, and angry…

I’m John, a parent educator with many years of experience working with families like yours. And I’m here to reassure you that there are ways to improve your situation, even if the other parent does not change. Let’s begin by turning to the first exercise in your workbook.

A man, John, sits at the head of the table and speaks to the group of six participants.
[Ana] In this first exercise, the participants are asked to reflect on their own behaviors in the relationship. As you listen to these statements, take a minute to think about whether these statements describe your behavior before we return to the group.

Ana speaks to us directly in the same waiting room area as before.

There is a sheet of paper labelled exercise 1: a look at my own behaviors.

Ana speaks to us directly in the same waiting room area as before.

“I have difficulty controlling my anger at the other parent in front of our child.” There is a photo of two parents arguing in the background, while two girls are sadly sitting at a table in front of them.
“The other parent and I have had physical and verbal fights in front of our child.” There is a photo of a teenaged girl sitting with her hands on her head, while her parents argue in the background.
“I have become so angry with the other parent that I threatened to limit the other parent’s time with our child.” There is photo of a Black man with his hand on his forehead, depressed and exasperated.
“When my child is with the other parent, I become very anxious about my child’s safety and wellbeing.” There is a photo of a sad woman sitting on a couch.
“When my child is with the other parent, I often call or text to make sure my child is safe.” There is a photo of a frowning woman in bed staring at her phone.
“I’ve given up trying to speak directly to the other parent, because every time we speak, we end up arguing and nothing gets resolved.” There is a photo of a man and woman on opposite ends of a couch, ignoring each other.
“I believe my child needs to understand the mistakes that the other parent has made and why we are not together as a family.” There is a photo of a woman trying to speak to her daughter, but her daughter has her back turned against the woman.
“I think my child is old enough to under the court process, so I sat down with her and went over court documents.” There is a photo of two documents on a table.
“The other parent repeatedly takes me back to court.” There is a photo of a judge and two parents sitting in front of him.
“My child has no real desire to spend time with the other parent.” There is a photo of a sad child looking up.
“I sometimes have needed to explain to my child that he cannot go on an outing or have new clothes or toys because the other parent does not provide enough financial support.” There is a photo of a mother and son sitting next to each other. The son looks sad. The mother has her hand on her son’s shoulder, comforting him.
[John] So what did we learn? Were you able to identify with any of these statements? John, sitting at the head of the table, addresses the group.
[Donovan] These questions, man. I…I don’t get the point! Doesn’t everyone do some of these things sometimes? I don’t see how taking here with a group of strangers is going to help me see my daughter. Donovan, a participant sitting at the table, replies to John and gestures angrily with his hands at a sheet of paper. Donovan’s expression is angry.
[John] I realize that this can be very frustrating in the beginning and you may have many conflicting feelings. Can you tell me which one of these responses you identify with? John speaks to Donovan.
[Donovan] Well…I have to admit it, I’ve yelled. I mean, really yelled, at Tamiko in front of my daughter. [sigh] I can’t help it. That’s how we express ourselves in my family. It doesn’t mean anything, but she always overacts. And…[sigh] I guess that’s why she filed the restraining order. But that’s over now. But somehow it isn’t, is it? Because we’re here, and…you know, we can’t talk, and I haven’t seen my daughter. Donovan responds to John and addresses the whole group. Donovan gestures angrily at Tamiko while speaking.
[John] Is there a restraining order out at this time? We don’t have participants in the same group when there’s a restraining order out. John addresses Donovan.
[Donovan] The restraining was never grant, but ever since she filed I haven’t seen my daughter. Donovan responds to John.
[Tamiko] May I say something here? I have a problem when he raises his voice at me. And I am not sure how we can ever work together in this class when he’s showing this much anger. I don’t feel comfortable that he can take care of Callie. After all, she’s only three years old. Tamiko asks John a question and addresses the group.
[Roberto] Sorry, man….I, I know what you mean. I’ve been really frustrated with my ex, too. But it sounds to me like you’re really hurting ‘cause you haven’t seen your daughter. Roberto, a man sitting next to Donovan, turns his head towards Donovan and starts speaking to him.
[John] Roberto has brought up a really important point that you’ll hear over and over throughout this program. Sometimes our feelings of frustration and anger are covering other intense feelings of pain and sadness when we feel that we’ve lost something very important like a connection with our children. We want to strike back, to keep from feeling this sadness. But we don’t realize how threatening we may look to other parent. The other parent ducks for cover. Figuratively, I mean. And the end result is that communication shuts down. One thing that you’ll learn here is how to recognize your feeling and take some time to consider how to communicate them. Stopping and thinking can help you get what you want. In the coming weeks, we can take an example like Donovan and Tamiko shared with us and see how Tamiko may feel if Donovan expresses himself differently. And it could be that Donovan can get a different result. Before we go any further, let’s take some time for introductions. So, please, complete exercises one and two in your workbook.

John addresses the entire group of participants at the table.

The group shuffles through some documents in front of them.

[Ana] As the group turns to the next exercise, I’ll ask you to reflect on how long you were with your child’s other parent and consider how you would relate the communication in your relationship today. Ana speaks to us directly in the same waiting room area as before.
I would rate the communication between my child’s other parent and I as: Hostile, Moderately angry, Avoidant, Cold, Civil, Friendly. Words appear on a black screen: “I would rate the communication between my child’s other parent and me as: Hostile, Moderately angry, Avoidant, Cold, Civil, Friendly.”
[John] Now I would like for each of you to introduce yourselves by telling us your first name, your child’s name and age, how long you were together, and how long you’ve been separated. If you are willing, tell the group something about your experience with the last exercise. John addresses the entire group of participants, sitting at the table.
[Roberto] Hi, I’m Roberto. Patty and I, we’ve been marr…we were married for six years. Been separated for nearly three years and have had a great plan for Joaquin. But as things were starting good, it’s now gone downhill fast. I would have to say right now, today, I see our relationship as avoidant. I’m just trying to avoid conflict with Patty. Roberto introduces himself to the group. Patty is sitting next to Roberto and frowning.
[Patty] That’s for sure, you never return my calls about Joaquin. Patty responds to Roberto.
[John] Could you please introduce yourself to the rest of the group? Sounds like you have some feelings about this. John addresses Patty and asks her to introduce herself.
[Patty] I’m Patricia and I have to say that I’m angry and his avoidance is just passive-aggressive behavior. So, I would call our relationship an angry one. Patty introduces herself to the group.
[John] Thanks, Patricia. Or do you prefer Patty? John responds to Patty.
[Patty] Actually, Patty. Patty responds.
[John] So are you describing your relationship as an angry one even though there are not necessarily big knock-down, drag-out arguments? Is that right? John responds.
[Patty] That’s right and nothing gets resolved. Patty responds.
[John] I can understand how you feel angry and possibly worried when important decisions are delayed. But I’m going to ask you while you’re in this program, please refrain from labelling the other parent’s behavior. Even though you may be absolutely certain of his motivation. We’ll learn more about this later. John responds to Patty and also addresses the group.
[Patty] What do you mean? Patty asks John a question.
[John] Using the term “passive-aggressive” is really another way of labelling the other parent. It’s something that we all do from time to time. But let’s avoid this here, because we’re here to learn new ways of thinking our situations, which will lead to solutions. How old is Joaquin? John addresses the entire group.
[Patty] He’s nine. Patty responds to John.
[Lisa] I’m Lisa. We were married for 12 years. We’ve been separated for two. Our children are Michael–he’s 11–and Cassie—she’s 8. I would have to say that our relationship is moderately angry. Lisa, a blond woman, introduces herself to the group. A man, David, sits next to Lisa wearing a black suit.
[David] Agreed. I’m David. What she has done to my kids– David nods and introduces himself to the group.
[John] So David, you and Lisa seem to see your relationship the same way. Is that correct? You also seem to be laying a lot the blame for the changes in the family on Lisa. While you’re in this program, I’m going to ask all of you to avoid dwelling on the past and the situations that brought you here. In all relationships, both parties have contributed to the problems which led to the breakdown in the relationship. And we are more empowered to create change if we focus on what we can do going forward, rather than assigning blame for what didn’t work in the past. Let’s hear from you, Tamiko. John asks David a question. David nods. John then addresses the group.
[Tamiko] Well…I think you all heard a bit about our relationship already. I think I would have to call our relationship hostile, because of the anger that I feel from Donovan. But I don’t want it to be like this. We never actually lived together. Callie and I live with my parents. [sighs] I never in my life would expected that Callie would grow up without seeing her dad. Tamiko explains her situation to the group. Her expression is sad.
[Donovan] I can’t believe you are saying this. I…It’s been impossible to know what you really think. Everything I hear from you is through your parents who would rather have me out of Callie’s life completely. Up until you spoke, I would have labelled our relationship as hostile, but for the first time in weeks, I feel like that maybe there’s some hope if I can deal directly with you. Donovan, sitting across from Tamiko, speaks to her.
[John] Thank you, Tamiko and Donovan. You just gave the group an excellent example of how change can begin if both parties are open to communicating directly with each other about their child. John addresses the entire group.
[Ana] As the first group meeting ends, the parents have homework assignments. As you are watching this video, I invite you to think about two of these assignments and the impact these would have on you, if you were asked to do these things. The parents are asked to find a favorite picture of their child and bring it to the second session. They’re also asked to sign a commitment to change their own behavior towards the other parent during the course of the program. By signing it, they agree to communicate directly with one another and not use their child as a messenger. They also agree to protect their child from exposure to their disagreements or to negative discussions about the other parent. I think you will see as we rejoin the group some interesting changes are beginning to take place. As the parents turn their focus on their child and onto actions they can take to improve the situation.

Ana speaks to us directly in the same waiting room area as before.

Parents hold photos of their children.

Ana speaks to us directly in the same waiting room area as before.

[Patty] Aw, no. That’s yours?

[Tamiko giggles] [women cooing] [men chatting in background]

Patty and Tamiko sit next to each other talking and laughing. Patty gestures at the photo in Tamiko’s hands.
[John] Hello, everyone. How are we all doing? I wonder if there’s anyone in the group that would like to share their experience about the homework, or any other reactions to the group so far. John, sitting at the head of the table, addresses the group of six participants.
[Roberto] It’s interesting. Me and Patty haven’t really talked in a such a long time, let alone be sitting together at the same table. I think…writing the commitment to change has helped me a lot ‘cause I can agree to these things for six weeks. And maybe…just maybe, for…it, it could last longer. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m somewhat hopeful. Roberto speaks to the entire group.
[John] Thank you, Roberto, for getting us started. Now, just when you thought you were challenged enough, I’m going to add another challenge for you. I’m going to ask that while you’re here in this program, you sit directly across from your co-parent. So, Roberto, can you change places with Donovan? And Donovan please more to the middle, so you are directly across from Tamiko. And Lisa, you’re fine. Donovan? John addresses the entire group. He points to Roberto and Donovan, asking them to change seats. Donovan raises his hand, and John calls on him.
[Donovan] I was all hopeful last time. Me and Tamiko even started to talk as we left. But since then, she hasn’t taken any of my phone calls and she hasn’t answered any of my tests since then. Donovan talks to John.
[John] Well, Donovan. It’s not an easy task. This…learning to communicate. It’s going to take some time. What were your reactions to the homework? John responds.
[Donovan] At this point, I don’t have much of a choice if I want to see Callie. I had to sign that commitment to change. Donovan responds. 
[Lisa] I feel a lot like Donovan. Whether or not I agree with everything I’m hearing, I don’t really have a choice! I don’t know any other way to get more time with my kids. Lisa addresses the entire group.
[John] So what I’m hearing is at least some of you have come to this program in despair, because you tried all the other usual problem-solving methods and they’re not getting you where you want to go. Is that right? John addresses the group.
[Roberto] Well…for me, I agree to the conditions of the commitment to change, but honestly, I don’t see what good it’s going to do. Lisa hasn’t been there for the kids and she just doesn’t see it. Robert responds, and Lisa frowns.
[Tamiko] Um…our situation is a little different. Donovan’s behavior is the problem. Even after last time, he kept texting me and demanding that we meet to talk. We have an order restricting his contact, so if he can agree to abide by that, I’ll be much more likely to talk to him about Callie. Tamiko talks to John.
[Patty] In our case, we just don’t agree about what’s happening with Joaquin and how to resolve it. And I still don’t see how this group can help, but I don’t know any other alternatives. Patty addresses the group.
[John] You’re not alone in feeling discouraged. The reality is, though, that your child has two parents and both of you will be in his or her life forever. That will not change. The choice about who the other parent is has already been made and that person is sitting across from you at this table. The remaining choice is how you and your co-parent will behave towards one another. That choice is an individual one. One that only you can make. Remember, you are already a role model for your child. What kind of role model you are is your choice. Stop and think about it for a minute. This is probably the most singular, powerful message in this program: How you behave as a parent towards the other parent is your choice. I see some doubt around the table, right? Some of you may still be feeling that the problems in your relationships are the other parent’s fault. And if that parent were simply out of the picture, life would simply be so much easier. You would have less stress, less conflict. You wouldn’t have to work out all these details with the other parent. It would remove any chance of the other parent having a damaging influence on your child. And you’d have complete control, right? But stop and think. While that might seem great for you, what would it be like for your child if he or she had only one parent? Let’s look at what your child would lose if there were only one parent. Your child would be left with a longing to know what type of person the other parent was and the question: “Am I anything like my other parent?” I’m wondering if any of you have been affected by divorce or separation and have struggled with any of these issues. John addresses the group. The entire group wears unhappy expressions.
[Donovan] I never knew my dad. That’s what breaks me up about not seeing Callie. Yeah, a few pictures when he and my mom were together, but I don’t remember him. And I knew very little about him. I just stopped asking my mom ‘cause she had that look on her face like: “Don’t go there.” It’s a hole in my life. A big unknown.  Donovan gestures to himself and talks to the group.
[David] My dad is such an important part of my life and my kids’ life. I can’t imagine how that would be. David responds to Donovan.
[Lisa] I sometimes felt left out in our own family as David’s parents were so involved. My own parents divorced around the time Michael was born. It was a really bad divorce. They refused to be in the same room as each other. I would dread the holidays, because of the animosity between them, and as a result my kids don’t even know my side of the family. Lisa talks to the group.
[John] So, Lisa. It sounds like even as an adult, you’ve experience the stress and sense of loss that our children feel when they’re caught in a crossfire between two angry parents. Donovan responds to Lisa.
[Lisa] I guess so. Lisa responds.
[John] And Donovan, you have described what so many of us parents feel. That deep desire to give our children what we never had. Thank you for sharing these experiences. Although these memories may be painful, they are a valuable window into how our children feel. Now, let’s meet these children that we’ve been talking about. Patricia, start us off by telling us the name and age of your child and why you chose that picture. John addresses Donovan and the group.
[Patty] This is Joaquin. He’s nine here. Um…it was taken after he won second prize at the school science fair. He was doing really well in school then. I was really proud of him. Patricia smiles and holds up a picture of her son, Joaquin.
[Donovan] This is Callie. Um…Not like really a current picture, but, um…I guess I chose it because I was wither when she first started walking. She’ll be four next month. Donovan shows the group a picture of his daughter.
[David] My kids. Michael’s eleven and Cassie’s eight. There’s Cassie with my father.  David hold up two pictures to show them to the group.
[Lisa] Do you have to do that? I mean, talk about them like they’re yours only. Sorry, it bothers me. Lisa frowns and addresses David.
[John] Lisa, before you show us your photos, can you tell the group what you were reacting to in what David said? John asks Lisa a question.
[Lisa] I know David does a lot with the kids. He always has. But when he says things like: “my kids” and “our family trip” it’s as if they’re a family, and I’m an outsider. And it really makes me angry. And, yeah, I guess…hurt. Lisa explains herself to the group. Her expression is angry.
[John] I see. That’s a good example for all. While you’re in the group, let’s get a new habit started of referring to your children as our children rather than my children. This simple change can go a long way in reinforcing the idea that even though you parents are no longer together, your central relationship as parents will always exist. Now Lisa, let’s take a look at your pictures. John addresses the group.
[Ana] As the facilitator suggested, just by changing one word, from “my” to “our” children, you acknowledge that your relationship as parents will always exist. Take a few minutes to think about the alternatives. Think about how your child might feel knowing that his parents don’t get along or even worse. That his parents have no contact with one another because of the deep distrust they harbor towards one another. Even very young children can feel the tension between adults and are listening to adult conversations that you might have about the other parent, even when you think that they do not hear you. Children caught in the middle of adult conflict sometimes feel forced to choose between parents as if one parent is the good guy, and the other parent is the bad guy. Ana speaks to us directly in the same waiting room area as before.
[Ana] We call these “loyalty binds.” The parents in the group are asked to consider how they may have created a situation where their children feel caught in the middle. To uncover how they may have contributed to creating loyalty binds for their children, they were asked to write a statement about how they told their child about why the parents aren’t together. Let’s hear how they dealt with this question.

The screen turns black and the words “Loyalty Binds” appears.

Ana speaks to us directly in the same waiting room area as before.

[John] Tamiko, would you be willing to share your response? John addresses Tamiko and asks her a question.
[Tamiko] I really haven’t talked to Callie at all about her dad, and she only asks about him once in a while. My parents are pretty strict, and they’re concerned about Donovan coming at all now. If Callie starts to say anything about her dad when my parents are around, I just change the subject. Tamiko talks to the group.
[John] So, if I got it right, in the interest of keeping the peace with your parents you avoid mentioning Donovan at all. Does that mean that…there aren’t any pictures of him around the house? John responds.
[Tamiko] That’s right. Tamiko nods and responds.
[John] As I recall, Donovan had pretty regular contact until the last six months, is that right? John asks her another question.
[Tamiko] That’s right. Tamiko nods and responds.
[John] How do you think Callie is affected by this change? And do you think she has been put in the middle in some way? John asks Tamiko a question.
[Tamiko] Well…I’m beginning to see that she has been affect and even though she is so little, she has definitely heard some of the arguments with my parents and my parents’ statements about Donovan. She seemed to like it when Donovan came over. She’d pull on his hand until he sat down in this one old chair to read “Goodnight Moon.” Always the same book, over and over again. Tamiko responds.
[John] And now it’s now even safe to mention his name. John responds.
[Tamiko] I see what you mean. Tamiko responds.
[John] All children, especially very young children, need their parents to make a bridge upon which they can walk from one parent to the other. One of the ways to create such a bridge is to have a custody and visitation plan, so that the child has a predictable plan of contact with both parents. At the end of today’s session, we will have a homework assignment where you will be asked to define the key parenting issue between you and the other parent. I’m going to suggest to Tamiko and Donovan that you focus on how to build a bridge for Callie with a very specific visitation schedule. Now let’s review. We’ve heard from children about how they feel when they’re in the middle of some things and how we adults put them in the middle. Thanks to Tamiko’s willingness to share, we’ve also learned how a loyalty bind can be created even when we’re not aware of it. Let’s review by taking a look of some other ways loyalty binds are created. John addresses the group.

[John] Parents create loyalty binds and put children in the middle when: 

  • One parent criticizes the other parent or makes his or her negative views known to the child
  • One parent tries to form an alliance with the child against the other parent
  • One parent presents himself or herself as “the victim” or the loser in the separation in an effort to win sympathy from the child, and bind the child closer
  • One parent uses the child to meet his or her emotional needs

The screen is black and words appear:

LOYALTY BINDS

  • One parent criticizes the other parent
  • One parent tries to form an alliance with the child
  • One parent presents as “the victim”
  • One parent uses the child to meet emotional needs
[Ana] Children are placed in loyalty binds when their two parents are unable to communicate. Let’s rejoin the group as they explore how the parents we have met face this issue. Ana speaks to us directly in the same waiting room area as before.
[John] Welcome everyone to session 3. In our last session, we focused on how difficult it is for our children when we put them in the middle of our conflicts and we began to look at how each of us has done so often without realizing that we are harming our kids. Now…we begin the process at look at how each of us can build a different kind of relationship with the other parent that person sitting across the table from you. We want to build that bridge, which allows your child to move back and forth between you safely, and easily. John addresses the entire group sitting at the table.
[Ana] A different kind of relationship. What does John mean by that? Professionals who work with parents who live separately and are frequently in conflict suggest that parents can succeed in communicating if they develop what experts call “a co-parenting relationship.” One where parents let go or disengage from the past adult issues and focus only one the job of raising their child. Let’s rejoin the group as John describes in more details the qualities of a co-parenting relationship. Ana speaks to us directly in the same waiting room area as before.
[John] Are there any comments or questions about these ideas so far? John asks the entire group.
[Donovan] [sighs] Well I guess I’m not understanding how we’re supposed to do that. I mean, let go, and move on…and still be parents. You know…like, in my case, I don’t have any contact with Tamiko or my daughter. I already feel pretty disengaged. What I want is more contact. Donovan talks to the group.
[John] Perfect question, Donovan. What I’m suggesting is that you need to let go of your former relationship with Tamiko as your girlfriend in order to create a different type of relationship, which is more businesslike than intimate. A relationship which is built solely on your roles as Callie’s two parents.  John responds to Donovan.
[Donovan] Excuse me. But I think I’m missing something. I don’t see it’s possible for me to just turn off my feelings. Donovan, frowning, responds.
[Patty] I know what Donovan means. When I’m with Joaquin, I’m worried about how he’s struggling in school. I can’t just stop those feelings. Patty jumps into the conversation.
[John] I’m not saying that your feelings are not important. They are. But deciding what to do about your feelings is not a joint project for you and the other parent. Sharing with a neutral adult friend or a counsellor is the best to sort out your feelings and get some emotional support. For you, Patricia and Roberto, having some input from a neutral professional who’s experienced in working with children might be really helpful.  John responds to Patty and the group.
[John] We’ve been talking about feelings like anger, sadness, and worry. Feelings that come up for everyone going through the issues, which you and your co-parents face. Let’s stop and visualize for a moment the other types of feelings a successful business relationship promotes.

The screen is black and words appear:

ANGER

SADNESS

WORRY

[John] Like satisfaction, and trust.

More words appear: 

SATISFACTION

TRUST

[John] If you think of any business where you have a positive, ongoing relationship from your local dry-cleaner or convenience store to your car insurance or real estate broker, you would probably see similar qualities which keep you coming back as a satisfied customer. Trusting that the business will continue to provide service at a consistent level.  There is a succession of photos: a woman checks out at a grocery store, a man looks at a menu, someone shops at a hardware store, a man retrieves a suit at a dry cleaner store, a real estate broker shakes hands with a happy couple, a man shops for tools at a store, an employee at a tire shops is holding a tire, an employee at a clothes store is smiling.
[John] Ultimately, businesslike communication with your co-parent can provide similar rewards. The more you and the other parent are able to solve parenting issues using this approach, the more you will develop a sense of trust and satisfaction. Both of you have to work at ensuring that the other parent feels heard and respected in the process even when you disagree. You’ve listening for a while now. Let’s give you a chance to practice identifying what might and what might not be co-parenting issues. Take a few minutes in the next exercise. We’ll go around the table and I’ll ask each one of you to read one question and one response. David, would you begin, please?

There is a succession of photos of happy families.

John addresses the entire group sitting at the table. John nods towards David.

[David] Number One: Your co-parent got a new job. Well, I answered that it’s very important for me to know. Lisa’s work takes her away for weeks on end sometimes and so I need to know in case it affects one of her visits.  David reads from a paper in front of him. He addresses John and the group.
[John]  So it’s important to know, because it might affect the parenting schedule. John responds.
[Tamiko] I answered differently. I don’t really think it’s Donovan’s business where I’m working.  Tamiko jumps in and addresses the group.
[John] Can you explain your thinking a little bit? John responds.
[Tamiko] For a while, Donovan was texting me daily when he thought I might be at school or working. I finally had to change my number because it was upsetting and distracting. Telling him where I’m working would feel like I was leaving myself open to that kind of harassment. Tamiko explains to the group. She looks upset.
[Donovan] But that hasn’t happened recently, right? Donovan, sitting across from Tamiko, speaks to her.
[Tamiko] That’s true, and since I changed my number. Tamiko responds.
[John] So you might feel differently about Donovan having information about your work or your school if he was not using that information to contact you unnecessarily, is that correct? John responds to Tamiko and points to Tamiko.
[Tamiko] Yes. Tamiko nods and replies.
[John] Tamiko, well, can you get to the next question? John asks Tamiko another question.
[Tamiko] Two: Your co-parent is dating. I answered it’s not my business, because I feel like it’s not Donovan’s business either if I were to be dating. Tamiko reads from a paper in front of her and addresses the group.
[Donovan] What? Are you saying you could be dating someone who might be around my daughter, who I barely see? And you would feel like I don’t need to know about that? Donovan speaks to Tamiko.
[David] Oh, I really had some issues with this when Lisa started seeing someone. I mean, I had no idea who that guy was. David jumps in and talks to the group.
[Roberto] I have an issue with this too. As you all know, Patty is now living with Paul. And I don’t really know much about him. We’ve never been introduced except for the part where he answers the door to the apartment where I used to live. And that’s bad enough. I don’t even know what Joaquin feels about him. Roberto talks to the group.
[John] So I’m hearing that there may be some reason to tell your co-parent when you’re in a new relationship, because the other parent needs some reassurance about the role the new person has in your child’s life. And I’m also going to suggest that when you’re introducing your new significant other into your child’s life that you let your co-parent know. First, so that you keep your child out of the middle. How about our next question, Patty? John addresses the entire group. He looks at Patty.
[Patty] Uh, number three: During his or her parenting time, your co-parent relies on someone else to care for you child. I put that it might be my business. I mean, with us, it’s usually Roberto’s parents that babysit and Joaquin adores them. I mean, I guess if it were someone else, I’d want to know. Patty reads from a paper in front of her and addresses the group.
[John] So…everyone agrees? [Silent] Number four, Roberto. John asks a question to the group.
[Roberto] You’re not sure how your co-parent is spending the child support money. I guess this would be my business if I felt my son was neglected somehow. But, um, that’s never been a problem with us. Roberto reads from a paper in front of him and addresses the group.
[Donovan] Five: you wonder how late your co-parent stays out in the evening. “Important for me to know” is what I answered. I mean, I don’t know what happens over there. Donovan reads from a paper in front of him and addresses the group.
[John] So I wonder if you knew more about Callie’s general care and saw Callie more often you might need less information about Tamiko’s personal life. John responds.
[Donovan] [sighs] I guess I hadn’t thought about it like…that. [sighs] But…yes. Donovan looks up and responds to John.
[John] Okay, so let’s get to number eight. Lisa? John addresses Lisa.
[Lisa] Um…your co-parent has changed pediatricians. To me, that’s definitely a co-parenting issue. We both need to be up to speed on medical care and decision-making. Lisa reads from a paper in front of her and talks to the group.
[John] Okay. So, in the interest of time, why don’t we skip to number twelve.  John talks to the group and points to Patty.
[Patty] Number Twelve: your co-parent has signed your child up for an extracurricular activity without consulting you. Well, I would have a problem with that. It is important for me to know. That was never one of our issues. We would always discuss and agree on activities for Joaquin. But now it seems like it’s the other way around completely. I think Joaquin has way too many activities. Roberto doesn’t agree with me, so I don’t know how we’re ever going to work this out. Patty reads from a paper in front of her and addresses the group.
[John] I understand, Patty, that you and Roberto haven’t worked on this together yet. And, definitely, it is a co-parenting issue. The exercises in the second half of this program will give you the tools to work together on this issue and many others. John responds to Patty.
[Ana] In completing the homework for the next session, the participants learn about one of the most powerful communication tools in the program. Commonly called the I-message or polite request. Put simply, this tool helps the speaker take responsibility for his or her own feels and request a specific action to address the issue of concern. Take a look at the form the parents are asks to complete. By completing the form as an exercise, the parents are required to identify one specific parent concern, how their child may be affected, their feelings about the situation, and they change they would like.

Ana speaks to us directly in the same waiting room area as before.

There is a paper titled, “Polite Request or I Message Worksheet.”

[Ana] Lastly, the parent has to identify an action that he or she can take to improve the situation. Let’s return to the group as they meet the following week. Ana speaks to us directly in the same waiting room area as before.
[Tamiko and Donovan speaking to one another] Donovan and Tamiko are talking from across the table. Both are smiling.
[John] Welcome back everyone. Well, Tamiko and Donovan. I see that you two are communicating. Since that’s our topic today, would you mind if I ask the two of you to share with the group what’s going on? John addresses the group.
[Tamiko] Not at all, um…is that okay with you? Tamiko responds.
[Donovan] Fine with me. Um…we actually started working on the homework exercises…um…and somehow we were able to talk. But the coolest part of all is that I was able to spend two hours with Callie last Saturday. Donovan talks to the group.
[John] Interesting, and how did that happen? John asks Donovan a question.
[Donovan] Um…Well, I started on the first exercise, the polite request and I decided to e-mail it to Tamiko. And I couldn’t believe it! She responded. Uh…we met at the park. I have some great pictures on my phone maybe I could show you guys later. It was…like…so amazing. Callie ran towards me, gave me a big hug. It was almost like no time had passed at all. Donovan, looking at Tamiko and smiling, talks to the group.
[John] And Tamiko? John looks towards Tamiko.
[Tamiko] Um…everything Donovan is saying is true. I read his email, and since I knew about the exercise, I didn’t just delete it, because it sounded different. Before I came to this class, I didn’t understand how hard it was for Callie not to see her class. But the way Donovan presented his request in email gave me an opening to say “yes” to something that I knew would be a good for Callie. Tamiko addresses the group.
[John] I’m glad to hear this exercise worked for the two of you. Donovan, would you please read us your polite request? John smiles and addresses Donovan.
[Donovan] Well, here it goes. Not seeing Callie is hard for her, because I am her father, and I have been a part of her life until the last few months. Um…when your parents refuse to allow me to even speak to her on the phone, I feel sad and worried, because I don’t how she’s doing without me. What I would like is to have a visit with her, and I would be willing to meet at the park near your house at a time convenient for you. Is this acceptable for you? Donovan reads from a paper in front of him.
[Tamiko] I think what made this easy to respond to was that the request was very specific. The park is a place we both know, it is very convenient, Callie likes going there, and Donovan left it open for me to choose a time. Since I’m in school all week, and he’s working, the weekend was really the only possibility. I felt better having a specific time frame to visit. So, when I emailed him back, I just said, “Would this Saturday 2-4pm work?” It helped that I didn’t have to involve my parents. Tamiko talks to the group.
[John] So the fact that Donovan’s request was specific helped? John asks Tamiko a question.
[Tamiko] And…he didn’t talk about us, and he didn’t say anything really negative about my parents. Tamiko responds.
[Donovan] It’s been hard for me not knowing that her parents don’t really like me. Um…and…I don’t know what they say about me in front of Callie so…. Donovan talks to the group.
[John] Most parents going through a separation struggle with some versions of this issue. Tamiko and Donovan, whether its grandparents, extended family members, in-laws, or new partners, some of our family members may have some strong opinions about our situations. In part, because they care about us. But possibly, because we have used them as sounding boards to vent our frustration about the other parent, and they have come to align with our views so that they may feel protective of us and blame the other parent for the problems. John addresses the group.
[John] If you find yourselves in this situation, it is important to remember that the most important people for your child are you two parents. I suggest, Tamiko, that if it’s true that your parents have negative views about Donovan, that you help them understand how important Donovan is for Callie. For all of you, it is critical that you make sure that your children are protected from overhearing negative talk about the other parent or the separation itself. I also heard two important elements in Tamiko’s statements about why she felt Donovan’s I-message was effective. As I recall, Tamiko said something to the effect that since she’s been coming to this class she is now aware of the impact on Callie of not seeing her dad. In other words, she wasn’t thinking about herself or her own feelings, but was focused on Callie. And that awareness helped her to be more open to Donovan’s request had a different tone. We’re going to talk more about tone, and how it is one of the most critical parts of communications, which can help your message get through or block it entirely. Now let’s hear from Tamiko. Do you have a polite request that you’d like to share? John addresses the group and gestures towards Tamiko. John gestures towards the entire group with a pen. 
[Tamiko] Well…I’m hesitating here, because everything went so well with the visit last weekend, and maybe this issue won’t really be a problem anymore. Tamiko talks to the group.
[John] I’d like you to go ahead, Tamiko. We all learn from one another.  John responds.
[Tamiko] Okay. The problem is that Donovan texts me 10-20 times each day. It affects me and Callie, because I become irritated and upset and I am sure that Callie senses my anger. Donovan, when you text me over and over again, I become upset because I believe that you’re harassing me, and not really interested in Callie. If it is true that you really want to know about Callie, then what I would like is for us to come up with another way of communicating. I’d be willing to send you an email every other day, but I would like to reserve texting for emergencies. Tamiko reads from a paper in front of her.
[John] Group? Reactions? Does it sound neutral? Is it specific? John addresses the group.
[Roberto] It seems pretty specific and pretty neutral, except I…I don’t know if Tamiko’s solution is helping Donovan as a dad, I mean. It’s not really addressing the bigger issue of how he’s lost so much time with Callie. And an email? Every other day from Tamiko? I mean, how’s that going to make him feel closer to Callie. Roberto addresses the group.
[John] So Roberto, it sounds like you’re having some issues with the request itself. Anyone else have feedback for Tamiko. Remember, everyone, this is Tamiko’s first attempt and we are all going to have a turn with this. Let’s try another way of looking at Tamiko’s I-statement. Pretend you’re the other parent, and your co-parent said this to you. Let’s look at it again. John addresses the group.
[Lisa] If I were Donovan, I would feel frustrated with the proposal itself. I wouldn’t want to have to go through the other parent to get information on my child. It…It seems like it makes the other parent the gatekeeper. Uh, although our kids are older than Callie, the situation between David and I are similar in that I have to go through him to get any information on the kids. And I end up feeling frustrated and left you. So…with that history, a proposal like this wouldn’t get very far with me. Lisa raises her hand and talks to the group. Lisa turns towards Tamiko and addresses her momentarily, and then turns back towards the group.
[John] So we could say that the proposal maybe doesn’t take into account the other parent’s point of view. John talks to the group.
[Tamiko] I am beginning to understand how Donovan has felt, but his approach has felt to me like harassment. I think we’ve come a long way in the las weeks. That’s why I didn’t want to share my request, because we have already made so much progress. Tamiko talks to the group, looking at Donovan.
[John] Thanks, Tamiko. We’re all benefiting from your willingness to share your “I-statement.” No one has commented on the statement: “Donovan, when you text me over and over again, I believe that you’re doing this harass me and you’re not really interesting in Callie.” Since no one else brought it up, let’s ask Donovan if he’s reacted to any part of the statement. John thanks Tamiko and addresses the group.
[Donovan] Well…yes. I got from it that Tamiko thinks that one, I’m harassing her, and two that I’m not that interested in Callie.  Donovan nods and responds.
[John] And when you head those words, what did you think? What did you feel? John directs a question towards Donovan.
[Donovan] What did I think? I thought…I thought, “How dare she say that?” She doesn’t have any idea what it’s like for me not being um….around Callie, being away from Callie. [sigh] How did I feel? Angry, angry…I felt angry and disappointed. I mean, I get now how this happened. Like, I get how it got to this point. I, I get it. You know, the texting pushing her away. Um, and it didn’t get me any closer to Tamiko or Callie. I mean, I get it. I mean, I really get it. I think we’ve moved on from that now though. Donovan responds.
[John] I’m going to give you some homework for next time, because the dialogue between you two doesn’t end here. This is only the beginning. As others in the group mentioned, Tamiko’s proposal does not address the bigger issue what you as the other parent desires, which is more time with Callie, right? First, if it’s okay with Tamiko, let’s edit her proposal to eliminate any wording, which would be inflammatory. So let’s remove the words, “I believe you are harassing me and not really interested in Callie.” That language didn’t make Donovan receptive to Tamiko’s request, did it? John addresses the entire group.
[John] So Donovan, I would like you to write a response to Tamiko’s newly re-edited proposal, and make your own proposal for a plan to see Callie regularly. Her new proposal is now on the table just like your proposal was on the table when you two successfully arranged more time with Callie. You have three choices. One: you could agree. Two: you can disagree and make alternate proposals. Or three: ask for more time to think about it. If you choose option three, you must let the other parent know exactly when and what time you’ll be ready to respond. Okay? Roberto. John talks to Donovan and gestures towards him.
[Roberto] I have a question. Um, from what I’m hearing is that Donovan and Tamiko have found their through this conflict. And they’ve all—and Donovan realized that through repeated texting he’s not going to be getting what he wanted. Now, my question is about the situation with me and Joaquin. Um, and I’m kind of, have, uh, I’m kind of identifying with Tamiko here. When I’m with Joaquin which is half the week, Patty is continuously calling and texting me and Joaquin. And I relate to Tamiko’s frustration here, I just don’t know how to address the problem. Roberto raises his hand and addresses the group.
[John] Is your concern an issue you would consider putting into an “I-statement”? John looks at Roberto and asks a question.
[Roberto] I guess, maybe next week. Roberto responds.
[John] Or maybe later in this session. Before we go any further today with homework and don’t worry, all of you will get a chance to share your examples, I would like to define the term “I-statement” before we go on. This is an important concept, which can help you communicate with co-parents, your children, even co-workers, or your boss. The I-message is a statement where the speaker identifies and takes responsibility for his or her own thoughts and feelings, while describing a concern or making a statement about a topic. John responds and then addresses the group.
[John] The purpose of the I-message is to clearly and simply state a concern. To identify your feelings and thoughts related to the issue. To state the concern in a neutral, non-blaming way. To establish a basis for a polite request for change. Using these principles in communicating with your co-parent will help you clarify your own thoughts and feelings and increase the likelihood that your co-parent will listen. The statements we have just reviewed included the first wo parts of the I-message, but did not request the polite request portion. The polite request is part of the message which describes what you would like to do to address the concern. Let’s go back for a minute to the example of Donovan’s I-message.

The screen turns black and words appear:

Purpose of I-Message

  1. To clearly and simply state a concern
  2. To identify your feelings and thoughts
  3. To state the concern in a neutral way
  4. To establish a basis for a polite request for change

“Polite request” is highlighted in yellow.

[John, reading] “Not seeing Callie is hard for her because I am her father and had been a regular part of her life until the last couple of months. When your parents refuse to allow me to even speak with her on the phone, I feel sad and worried because I don’t know how Callie is doing without me.

What I would like is to have a visit with her. And I would be willing to meet you at the park near your house at a time convenient for you.”

New words appear:

“Not seeing Callie is hard for her because I am her father and had been a regular part of her life until the last couple of months. When your parents refuse to allow me to even speak with her on the phone, I feel sad and worried because I don’t know how Callie is doing without me.

What I would like is to have a visit with her. And I would be willing to meet you at the park near your house at a time convenient for you.”

[John] Notice the highlighted section. In this statement, Donovan is making a polite request for a change and offering to help make the change possible by actions he will take. To make it convenient for Tamiko.  The second paragraph is highlighted in yellow.
[Ana] If you were part of a group like this one, you would be encouraged to use every opportunity to practice creating I-messages about the parenting issues important to you. Before we return to follow Tamiko and Donovan’s progress in the next session, I would like you to reflect on the importance of the listener’s role in communication. One of the most important ways that we convey respect to a speaker is by giving him or her our full attention, which means making good eye contact and avoiding distractions. Reflecting back our understanding of what has been said is also key. This practice is especially important in relationships where you have strong feelings and are apt to misunderstand what was said. Before we move on to see how Tamiko and Donovan fared with the homework, let’s review the key points communicating both as a speaker and listener.

Ana speaks to us directly in the same waiting room area as before.

Tamiko and Donovan are sitting down at the table.

[Ana] When you are the speaker, your task is to identify the problem or concern. Recognize and be able to describe your own feelings about the problem. And formulate a polite request for change which includes your ideas about how to approach the problem.

Words appear on the screen:

Speaker’s Role

  1. Identify the problem or concern
  2. Recognize and be able to describe your own feelings about the problem
  3. Formulate a polite request for change which includes your ideas about how to approach the problem
[Ana] For the other parent who is hearing the first parent’s concern, we have discussed the importance of the listener’s role in communication. Ana speaks to us directly in the same waiting room area as before.
[Ana] As listener, you must listen carefully to the speaker’s point and acknowledge the speaker’s feelings. And restate what you heard in order to clarify that you understood the message. Now let’s rejoin the group.

Words appear on the screen:

Listener’s Role

  1. Listen carefully for the speaker’s point
  2. Acknowledge the speaker’s feelings
  3. Restate what you heard in order to clarify that you understood the message
[John] Welcome back. Everyone looks busy! [chuckles] We will continue this week with some further discussion of I-messages. And judging from what I see, some of you look ready for the task. I would like to give each couple an opportunity to work with the group support on your I-messages. Donovan and Tamiko, as you recall from last time, Tamiko had made a request of Donovan. He was to work on a response. He has some options: (1) he could agree, (2) disagree, and come up with his own polite request, or (3) could ask for some more time to think about it. So…let’s start with Donovan and Tamiko. John addresses the group sitting at the table. John gestures to Donovan and Tamiko.
[Donovan] Well, I didn’t agree with Tamiko’s proposal. Um…daily emails with Tamiko about Callie just didn’t cut it. [sighs] But I understood that the texting was not getting me where I wanted. The problem for me as a few of you mentioned last week is that I’ve been a real part of Callie’s life. You know…taking her out by myself, taking her to the doctor when she was sick. I know what she likes to eat, and uh, I know what stores she likes to hear before bedtime. I could put her down for a nap just as well as Tamiko and, and…even better than her parents! Donovan talks to the group. Donovan gestures angrily.
[John] Excuse me, Donovan. Before we go any further, I am going to call a time out and ask you to lean back in our chair. Take a deep breath and just read your statement. John talks to Donovan and addresses the group.
[John] I know you have strong feelings about this issue, but I would like you to remember that much of your message will be communicated through non-verbal communication. And, just as a reminder, last time we discussed keeping your voice low and avoiding gestures which could be perceived as intimidating for the other parent. And it’s also a good idea to keep your message short and simple. So let’s have you try again. Sit back…breath deep. Keep your message short and simple. Make good eye contact and avoid distracting gestures. John gestures towards Donovan, and talks to him.
[Donovan] Anyways, what I came up with as the problem is that my role in Callie’s life has been greatly reduced. Callie has lost an important connection with me, her father. I feel very concerned about this, as I know how it feels to be without a dad. If it is true that Callie feels sad misses me, then I would like to set up a schedule where Callie is spending half the week with me. I would be willing to resume visits for short periods of time to start with, just to make sure it all geos smoothly for all of us. I would be willing to start the visits by meeting at the park on Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday at a time convenient for you. Is this acceptable for you. Donovan reads from a paper in front of him.
[John] Tamiko, since we talked last time about active listening, I would like to ask you to practice responding to Donovan by starting with “what I heard you say is…” And then you can agree, disagree, and make a counterproposal or ask for more time to think about it. John talks to Tamiko.
[Tamiko] Well…[sigh] Okay, let’s see….What I heard you say is that you’re worried that Callie will suffer if she doesn’t have time with you and that you’re willing to start off seeing her several time a week, even though really you want to have her half the week. And…[sigh] I have to say, I agree. I mean, with the visits several times a week. [Sigh] Callie had her second visit with Donovan last Saturday and…it’s very clear to me that this is the best thing for her. She talked all the way home saying, “Dada pushed on the swing,” and “Dada bought me ice-cream,” and “Dada, whatever, whatever.” [smiling] When I tucked her in that night, she kept saying, “When can Dada read the story?” That used to be their little ritual at night. We do need to get our routine plan set up but I think, for now, that three days per week is fine.

Tamiko talks to the group. She looks at Donovan.

Tamiko smiles when talking about her daughter.

[Donovan] This might not be the time or place for it [clears throat], but all the texting. It was hard for me to face the idea that I might be losing Tamiko and Callie. And I guess, through the weeks coming here, and thinking about everything that’s been going on, I’m not losing Callie after all.  Donovan looks at Tamiko and starts speaking.
[John] Great job, guys. John addresses Tamiko and Donovan.
[Ana] In this moment, Donovan realizes that the relationship with Tamiko as his girlfriend has ended. But the significant relationship that he has with Callie as his daughter will go on. But what about those of you who did not have a relationship like Tamiko and Donovan’s? Maybe you had less contact with the other parent, less shared history, and less trust. Building a co-parenting relationship depends on building a sense of trust and mutual respect. One way that’s helped me develop trust in my son’s father was to remember the positive qualities that attracted me to him when we first met. As I thought about those qualities, I realized that my son had inherited some of those same qualities. As a final exercise, the couples in the group were asked to identify three strengths in the other parent. Let’s see how they responded. Ana speaks to us directly in the same waiting room area as before.
[John] Would anyone else like to share your co-parent’s strengths or a little bit about how your child reacted when you mentioned something positive about your co-parent? John asks the group a question.
[Donovan] Well, what attracted me to Tamiko back in high school was how smart she was. And she always seemed so kind and patient. And during the time when I wasn’t seeing Callie, I think I forgot about these qualities. The other day, Callie made it easy for me when said, “Mommy very smart.” [laughs] And I just agreed. [Tamiko laughs] Donovan raises his hand. Looking at Tamiko and smiles, Donovan speaks.
[John] And Callie, what was her reaction, you know, when you agreed? John asks a question to Donovan.
[Donovan] [laughs] She said, “Daddy is smart too.” [Tamiko and Donovan laugh] And then she patted me on the knee. [all laughing] and then I said, “Callie is smart too.” And she gave me a big hug. It was cool. But yeah, Tamiko’s always been the brain. Donovan smiles and responds.
[John] So Callie recognizes that she has two smart parents and, Donovan, you helped make the bridge so that Callie knows that she that quality in common with both of you. You didn’t even know how smart you are. [all laughing] Okay, anyone else? Tamiko? Patty? Roberto? We still have time for a couple more John smiles and talks to Donovan. 
[Patty] Well, I wrote here that Roberto is good in sports, knows how to enjoy life, and is a loving father. Patty reads from a paper and looks towards Roberto.
[Roberto] Well, I appreciate hearing Patty finding some positive things to talk to me. We usually don’t see eye to eye in the handling of the issues for Joaquin. Um, but I’ve always appreciated you as the role model to his education. The way you went back to school and got your degree. I tell him that often. Roberto responds, looking at Patty.
[Patty] Thanks. Patty responds.
[John] Have you have time to mention one of Roberto’s positive qualities to Joaquin? John asks Patty a question.
[Patty] Um…not yet. I haven’t, no. But I will. I’m sure there are many things that Joaquin appreciates about his dad. Patty responds.
[Tamiko] But it’s not the same as you saying something positive, Patty. [sighs] I found that with Callie as little as she is, she could sense that it wasn’t okay at my house to talk about her dad. When I did the exercise and commented out loud to Callie in front of my parents that Donovan gives great hugs. She had this scared look on her face like she was expecting a bomb to go out. [laughs] Since…since I had already had a talk with my parents about how well the visits are going and now they understand that Donovan and I are working this out ourselves, they have really taken a back seat. They told Callie how happy they are that her dad gives good hugs. She just smiled and said, “You mean Nana and Pappy not mad at Daddy?” [laughs] My mom said something like, “We all love you, Callie.” Tamiko turns toward Patty, who is sitting next to her, and speaks. Tamiko turns towards to the group and continues.
[John] Thank you, Tamiko, for sharing your experiences with Patty and the group. It’s remarkable how children as young as Callie and younger can pick up on the tension in the family even if nothing overtly negative is said about the other parent. Sometimes jus the absence of talk says that it’s not safe to mention the other parent. That’s why we encourage you to mention your co-parent to your child from time to time in a positive way. And it could also help to have pictures in your home, which includes the other parent. Simply being open and receptive when you child wants to tell you something fun that happened at the other parent’s home is another way to show your child that you value this relationship with the other parent. John addresses the group.
[piano music] Thank you for joining me in watching Tamiko and Donovan’s story as told through their interactions in this group for parents in conflict. By participating in this program, they both learned to take responsibility for how they communicate with each other, and they learned to put into practice new communication tools. Putting Callie’s feelings and needs first helped them see that they are both invaluable parts of Callie’s upbringing. If you are experiencing issues like these, I hope that you’ll remember some of these important lessons that will benefit both you and your child. Ana speaks to us directly in the same waiting room area as before.

 

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